Grand Theft Auto IV

posted May 11, 2008 12:00:00 AM CDT | 72 comments

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When Grand Theft Auto III first hit the PS2, the gaming world’s jaws collectively dropped in awe. Never had there been a game that had was so deep and all encompassing. Never had there been a game that featured a living, breathing city that you could roam and do as you please. This was the “it” moment for gamers. Each edition that followed featured excellent improvements in all areas. Vice City had a brilliant retro 80s theme while San Andreas got very gangster and kept gamers with huge smiles on their faces. But the crown jewel was the long awaited debut of the GTA series on both the PS3 and Xbox 360. With so much hype going into a single game, it’s damn near impossible to come close to the hype and blasphemous to exceed it. But if there was ever a game that blew the doors off the gaming world. Grand Theft Auto IV is it.

GTA4 is much more than a simple enhancement on the series. Everything is improved beyond imagination. The graphics engine alone is what games have been asking for. No more blocky figures and stale environments. GTA4 delivers lifelike characters and a city with a wonderful world of depth. Take a trip on the bridge to Algonquin or a helicopter ride and you’ll see how stellar this game looks as the scale of Liberty City is beautiful and enormous.

GTA4 revolves around the world of Niko Bellic, an Eastern European who leaves his country to escape his past and find a new life in Liberty City. The quality of the story has got to be up there with the likes of Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy. Bellic’s character is one that you grow to like and understand the paradox that he’s in. His cousin, Roman, is equally likable in a charming failure type of manner. As the story progresses, the people that come in and out of Bellic’s life have purpose and further progress a remarkable story. Whether it be the hard as nails McReary family or the juiced up steroid freak Brucie Kibbutz, every character is well thought out and plays an integral role in the shaping of Niko’s future in Liberty City.

The Rockstar team has really outdone themselves with this one. Everything that you love in the GTA series is here: The profanity, the violence, the hookers, the drugs, the cars and everything in between.  But with GTA4, there is just so much more to suck you into giving hours upon hours of your life away. It is easy to stray away from the story by getting into a few rounds of bowling or pool.  The comedy club featuring the talents of Ricky Gervais and Katt Williams doing stand up is good enough to occupy your time. You can even sit at home and watch original GTA programming. Nothing cheesy either. Just check out "Republican Space Rangers" and it is easy to see how much time and effort was put into making this game head and shoulders above anything else you have ever played before.

The production quality alone in GTA4 is superb. From the vocal talent and a plot line thick enough to grace the big screen down to the multiple camera angles and brilliant look of Liberty City, GTA4 easily rivals any video game…ever.  Every cutscene is well directed and acted. The city – which is a direct parallel to New York City – is vibrant and just as lively as one could imagine. From the hustle and bustle of people walking the streets in the early afternoon to the homeless roaming the city in the evening, everything comes to life in Liberty City. Nothing comes up lame when it comes to the look and feel of the game. Even the radio stations give you numerous choices depending on your tastes. You can smooth it out with a little R. Kelly, get geeked up with Swizz Beatz, go Golden Era with some Main Source, get your dancehall on with Stephen Marley or get funky via the sounds of Gil Scott-Heron. It’s all in here.

The sheer depth of gameplay cannot be put into words as it truly takes sitting down for multiple hours to really engulf yourself in everything GTA4 has to offer. The lifeline of the average American -  the cellular phone -  keeps you busy enough answering calls from friends and lovers to keep you busy for endless hours.
But the real question is “How does it play?” And the answer is simple, excellent. Gone are the wacky fighting controls and in comes an action game that has the feel of Gears of War at times with its "take cover and fire" targeting system. Even hand to hand combat has been enhanced and is actually fun. The driving controls take a bit of getting used to, but once grasped, handle extremely well. The game is innovative enough to keep you playing the story for 30+ hours and yet never find the missions redundant or boring. Sure, some missions are mindblowing fun (the bank robbery takes a page out of the Pacino/Deniro film Heat) but even the basic follow-shoot-kill missions have their own life to them.

There are some very slight drawbacks. The targeting system sometimes is a bit quirky when coupled with odd camera angles, and the evenings are sometimes too dark. But these minor qualms are nitpicking at the best.

For $60, GTA4 is almost a bargain buy as you will surely spend the lifespan of three other games trying to accomplish everything there is to do in GTA 4. There is one word to sum up the latest edition to the Grand Theft Auto series – classic.

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